Managing Stress With Durian

  • Alessia Zappa Integrated Masters, Biomedical Sciences, University of York, UK
  • Jenny Lee Master of Chemistry with medicinal Chemistry, The University of Manchester

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Stress is the physical and mental state that naturally occurs as a response to any troubling life experience - from incidents that can happen in our everyday life, such as running late for work, to serious events, such as the death of a loved one. Such occurrences trigger a “fight-or-flight” response in us, a physiological reaction that helps prepare our body to either “fight or flee” the trouble we face. When our body is in a constant state of stress, also known as chronic stress, this can cause severe negative effects on our health. The Southeast Asian tropical fruit durian has been recently explored for its potential benefits in helping us manage stress symptoms. This article will outline how persistent stress can affect our bodies and how the durian’s rich nutrient source can help relieve stress. 

How does stress affect our body?

When you find yourself in a situation that is worrying, your stress response will kick in to help you react to what is happening. This response starts off in a tiny but essential part of your brain called the hypothalamus, which recognises that a troubling occurrence is happening and will kickstart the rest of the stress reaction - also known as the “fight-or-flight” response. It does so by telling your adrenal glands, which are two glands which sit on top of our kidneys (one on each), to release the stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are in charge of setting off physiological changes within your body to deal with the stressful situation at hand and to protect yourself - they quicken your heart rate and breathing, and they send blood to the most important organs needed in the emergency, such as your muscles and your heart. Once the worrying occurrence has passed, the hypothalamus tells our body to return to normal.1 

For short-term troubling situations, the stress response is incredibly beneficial to us, as it helps us cope with these occurrences in the best possible way. However, if the stress response does not go away after the fear has also gone, but instead continues to persist in our body, this can be very detrimental to our health. Such a type of continuous stress response is called chronic stress.1

What are the long-term consequences of chronic stress?

Chronic stress can affect a variety of organ systems. Examples include the following:1

  • The respiratory system - Persistent stress can keep your breathing rate too high for an extended period of time, making it difficult to breathe properly. This can severely affect people who already suffer from breathing problems, such as asthma or emphysema 
  • The cardiovascular system - Chronic stress can keep your heartbeat and blood pressure too high for an extended period of time. This makes your heart work too hard and for too long, which can increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack or a stroke
  • The digestive system - When the stress response occurs, your liver is instructed to produce more blood sugar (also known as glucose) to give you an energy boost to deal with a troubling situation. However, if chronic stress occurs and your glucose levels remain exceptionally high in your bloodstream, then your body cannot process it all. Such high glucose levels that remain in your blood can increase your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, as well as suffering from heartburn or acid reflux. Chronic stress can constrict the walls of our gut, meaning food does not pass through our digestive system as efficiently, in turn increasing our chances of feeling nauseous, as well as resulting in stomach aches, diarrhoea or constipation
  • The muscular system - When under stress, your muscles tense up in order to help protect ourselves from any potential injury. In normal circumstances, your muscles then relax after the fearful situation has passed. However, with chronic stress, your muscles may not relax. Consistently tight muscles can lead to symptoms such as headaches and muscle aches.
  • The reproductive system - In males assigned at birth, persistent stress can interrupt normal sperm production, can cause erectile dysfunction, and can increase risks of infections in their reproductive organs (such as the testes and prostate). In females assigned at birth, persistent stress can affect the menstrual cycle by leading to irregular, heavier and more painful periods. Moreover, it can make the symptoms of menopause more drastic/prominent
  • The immune system - Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, which means it cannot work as effectively in responding to foreign substances within your body. This makes you more susceptible to suffering from viral infections. It also means that you could take a longer time to recover from an illness or an injury

Further symptoms of stress include:1

Due to the vast number of organ systems that chronic stress can affect and the symptoms it can cause, which can negatively affect our everyday lives, it is imperative to find ways to manage our stress levels. A potential fruit that can help us with this is the durian. 

Introduction to the durian fruit

The durian fruit, scientifically known as Durio zibethinus, is a fruit which originates in the tropical areas of Southeast Asia. It is known for its spiky, hard shell, pungent smell, and incredibly sweet taste. The fruit’s flesh is most commonly found to be yellow or white but can also be red or green, and such flesh is divided into pods, which contain large seeds in the middle.2 In Southeast Asia, durian is often referred to as the “king of fruits”, and this is mostly due to its rich nutritional profile - in fact, the durian contains more nutrients compared to most other fruits.3,4

The following are the most prominent minerals and vitamins found in the durian:3,4 

  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron 
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus 
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C 
  • Thiamine
  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin

Natural plant compounds are also found within the durian, which are incredibly beneficial to our health. The most common examples include:2

  • Anthocyanins
  • Carotenoids
  • Polyphenols
  • Flavonoids 

Another important nutritional component of the durian fruit is that it is full of carbohydrates, most of which are fibre, which can be very beneficial in helping us manage our stress.2 

How does durian help manage our stress levels?

There are various ways in which durian helps to manage our stress levels. The most common ways are detailed below:

Durian’s potassium levels improve heart health

Durian contains high levels of potassium, a mineral known to help keep our heart healthy. It does so by regulating our blood pressure and making sure our heart is pumping blood properly and regularly. Moreover, potassium is essential for the cells in our heart, as it helps build the proteins and carbohydrates that the cells need to function properly. Overall, potassium helps reduce our risk of developing serious cardiovascular diseases. Hence, potassium helps reduce any heart-related symptoms of chronic stress, helping us manage our stress levels.5 

Impact of vitamins and minerals on stress 

The vitamins and minerals in durian greatly help manage our stress levels. Particular important examples include vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin D and magnesium:

  • Vitamin C - This vitamin has been shown to prevent the excess buildup of the stress hormone cortisol. The lower the amount of cortisol in our bloodstream, the less likely we feel stressed. Hence, vitamin C helps regulate our stress hormones and lessens the physical effects of stress.6 
  • Vitamin B6 and D - These vitamins support healthy stress responses by helping the body to return to a ‘normal’ state once the fearful situation causing the stress has passed. Promoting such healthy reactions diminishes the chances of stress persisting in the body and causing physical negative effects.7,8 
  • Magnesium - This nutrient has been shown to be able to relieve any physical symptoms we may feel due to stress, such as depression and anxiety9

Role of the durian’s fibre in promoting digestive health and stress reduction

The high fibre content in the durian is known to support healthy digestion - it prevents constipation, helps regulate bowel movements, and encourages feelings of fullness. Fibre does this by stimulating the production and secretion of digestive juices, which are important in efficiently breaking down any food travelling through the gut, which in turn makes the whole digestive process easier and prevents blockages in the intestines and constipation, as well as conditions such as heartburn and stomach cramps. Its fibre content also supports the production of healthy bacteria in the gut, which are essential for protecting our gut against any infections and detoxifying any harmful chemicals that may have been travelling through the gut. Hence, the fibre in durian helps reverse any stress-induced effects on the digestive system, in turn helping us manage our stress.10 

The durian’s antioxidants and their effect on combating stress

The durian’s plant compounds and vitamin C are considered to be substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our cells from reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are highly reactive substances naturally produced in our body by numerous cellular processes or from exposure to toxins such as pollution, cigarette smoke, and radiation.11 ROS levels are crucial to us, as they are important in various bodily processes. However, too much ROS in the body can lead to DNA damage (damage of our genetic material found within our cells, causing our cells not to function properly and die). This process is known as oxidative stress.11 Stress can also be one of the causes behind such overproduction of ROS.12 

The antioxidants in durian can help counter this oxidative stress by ‘neutralising’ the excess ROS and stopping them from affecting our bodily processes too much. This, in turn, can stop the side effects that come with persistent stress - it can reduce our chances of suffering from heart disease, help our immune system work properly and fight off infection effectively, and lower our blood sugar.12 

Incorporating durian into our diet

Durian can be used and eaten in a variety of ways. It is typically eaten fresh but can also be eaten chilled, canned or dried. The fruit can also be included in various food products, popular options in Southeast Asia including crisps, candies, jams, ice cream, soup and juice.3 

Since durian is best grown in the warm and humid climates in Southeast Asia, it is rare in local supermarkets in other parts of the world. The best places to find durian are Asian markets. In order to eat durian, the outer spiky shell must be removed (typically done with a knife). It is important to note that durian has a short shelf life, so it must be eaten soon after purchasing. If you shake the fruit and something appears to be rattling inside, then that could indicate that the fruit has dried out and is no longer fresh.3

Considerations and side effects of consuming durian 

Consumption of durian, like most other foods, is advised to be done in moderation. It is also advised, particularly for people who have underlying health conditions or allergies, to be aware of the potential side effects that durian consumption can lead to. 

The following are potential side effects of durian if consumed excessively or by people who may be sensitive to the fruit: 

  • Allergic reactions - Some people can experience allergic reactions after consuming durian. Symptoms include itching, hives, swelling, and difficulties breathing. In some severe cases, people can suffer from anaphylaxis
  • High potassium content - People with kidney disease must be cautious when consuming durian, as its high potassium levels have been found to be dangerous for those suffering with end-stage renal disease13 
  • Issues with digestion - Some people experience stomach pains, bloating, and diarrhoea after consuming the fruit. This is because some people may struggle to digest the high-fibre content
  • High sugar levels - Durian also contains high levels of natural sugars, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This can cause issues for diabetic people and their medication (which aims to reduce blood sugar levels) or those who are on a low-sugar diet
  • High in calories - Durian contains many calories compared to other fruits, so it may not be the best solution for those trying to lose weight
  • High sulphur levels - Durian contains high amounts of sulphur, the substance responsible for the fruit’s pungent smell. This odour can be unpleasant to some individuals, leading to headaches or nausea symptoms. Moreover, if someone has a history of being sensitive to sulphur, eating the sulphur-rich durian can lead to digestive issues. Additionally, if someone is consuming alcohol at a similar time as consuming durian, then the sulphur compounds can prevent the alcohol from being broken down in the body, increasing alcohol levels in the blood. This can then lead to symptoms such as heart palpitations and nausea. Hence, it is best to avoid eating durian if you plan on drinking soon after/at the same time2

Summary

Durian is already known as the “king of fruits” in Southeast Asia, continuing to gain popularity worldwide as a superfood - and this is for good reason. Its abundant vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, and fibre collectively help us in managing our day-to-day stress, which otherwise could cause physical negative side effects. They do so by regulating our stress hormones and helping our different organs function efficiently, such as our heart and our digestive system, and its compounds act as antioxidants which protect our body from oxidative stress. It is, however, important to note certain considerations before consuming durian, as some people might be sensitive to the fruit’s high fibre, sulphur and potassium content, leading to potential side effects such as allergic reactions and issues with digestion. Overall, when consumed in moderation, durian is considered an effective dietary approach to managing stress.

References

  • Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057–72. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2017-480.
  • Ho LH, Bhat R. Exploring the potential nutraceutical values of durian (Durio zibethinus L.) - an exotic tropical fruit. Food Chem. 2015 Feb 1;168:80–9.
  • A Aziz NA, Mhd Jalil AM. Bioactive compounds, nutritional value, and potential health benefits of indigenous durian (Durio zibethinus murr.): a review. Foods. 2019 Mar 13 [cited 2024 Jan 7];8(3):96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463093/
  • Husin NA, Rahman S, Karunakaran R, Bhore SJ. A review on the nutritional, medicinal, molecular and genome attributes of Durian (Durio zibethinus L.), the King of fruits in Malaysia. Bioinformation. 2018;14(6):265–70.
  • The link between potassium, magnesium, and heart health. ocrcadmin. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 7]. Available from: https://ocrc.net/the-link-between-potassium-magnesium-and-heart-health/
  • Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, Fickl H, Jogessar V. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med. 2001 Oct;22(7):537–43.
  • Young LM, Pipingas A, White DJ, Gauci S, Scholey A. A systematic review and meta-analysis of b vitamin supplementation on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress: effects on healthy and ‘at-risk’ individuals. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 16;11(9):2232. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092232.
  • Ostadmohammadi V, Jamilian M, Bahmani F, Asemi Z. Vitamin D and probiotic co-supplementation affects mental health, hormonal, inflammatory and oxidative stress parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. J Ovarian Res. 2019 Jan 21;12(1):5. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13048-019-0480-x.
  • Pouteau E, Kabir-Ahmadi M, Noah L, Mazur A, Dye L, Hellhammer J, et al. Superiority of magnesium and vitamin B6 over magnesium alone on severe stress in healthy adults with low magnesemia: A randomised, single-blind clinical trial. PLoS One. 2018;13(12):e0208454.
  • Exploring the nutritional contents and benefits of durian (Durio zibethinus) | Institute of bioproduct development. [cited 2024 Jan 7]. Available from: https://research.utm.my/ibd/project/exploring-the-nutritional-contents-and-benefits-of-durian-durio-zibethinus/ 
  • Valko M, Leibfritz D, Moncol J, Cronin MTD, Mazur M, Telser J. Free radicals and antioxidants in normal physiological functions and human disease. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology. 2007 Jan 1 [cited 2024 Jan 7];39(1):44–84. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1357272506002196 
  • Tan BL, Norhaizan ME, Liew WPP, Sulaiman Rahman H. Antioxidant and oxidative stress: a mutual interplay in age-related diseases. Front Pharmacol. 2018 Oct 16 [cited 2024 Jan 7];9:1162. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204759/
  • Leo C L B, Leong W S, Tieh C S, Liew C K. Durian Induced Hyperkalaemia. Med J Malaysia. 2011 Mar 1;66(1)

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Alessia Zappa

Integrated Masters, Biomedical Sciences, University of York

Alessia (bilingual in both English and Italian) has recently graduated from the University of York with a Master of Biomedical Science in Biomedical Sciences. Throughout her degree, she has had significant practice in a variety of written communication styles – from literature reviews, grant proposals, laboratory reports, to developing a series of science revision activities aimed for 12-13 year olds. She also has had extensive experience in collecting data, both within a laboratory setting (particularly in cell culture experiments) and online through survey-based projects. She has a particular passion for cancer research and immunology, with her final year project focusing on how the immune cell macrophage can be manipulated in order to target melanoma.

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